Today I got hearing aids fitted. If you haven’t read my previous posts on my hearing loss, you can find part one here and part two here. It’s been a little over two months since my last appointment when I had the hearing test and it took a little longer than expected to get my referral. But I have already made that experience with the NHS – it is free (although I do of course pay for it indirectly by paying taxes), but you have to be very, very patient. Two weeks ago the referral finally arrived in the mail, and my appointment was for this afternoon.
I decided I would take the day off work. One of the things I absolutely hate about the UK is how little privacy you are given at work regarding your health compared to Germany. In Germany, when you called in sick, the only reason you would give is that you are sick. If you require a doctor’s note, it also gives no information about your illness. Quite the opposite here. I have to give my employer the reason for my illness, when I call in sick. When you return to work at my company after sick leave, you have to fill out a return to work form which states what you had and how you treated it. It is similar when you have doctor’s appointments. In Germany, we would get little notes at the appointment stating the time you spent at the doctor but not the reason for your visit. Here, with normal appointments it is the same, but with appointments given via referrals, the letter you receive with your appointment also contains the reason for your visit. In this case I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my supervisor and employer knowing about the reason for my appointment. Obviously they will find out about the hearing aids, but I would rather not have more awkward conversations about it than necessary.
So anyway, after a lazy morning at home, I went on my way into town. It was a gorgeous day today. It is still not very warm here, but the sun makes all the difference! I didn’t even have to wear a jacket. I got to the audiology department and my name was called after a minute or two. (I seriously don’t think I have ever had to wait more than 5 minutes for my appointment here, maybe once.) I went in not knowing what to expect. I didn’t really know whether I would be getting hearing aids today or just have a casting of my ear made for a mould. Google did help me answer some questions prior to my appointment but left many unanswered.
This is what I knew:
- All NHS hearing aids are Behind-The-Ear Style of aids only.
- All NHS hearing aids are Digital.
- All patients requiring bilateral hearing aids will be offered bilateral aids.
- All hearing aids on the NHS and the batteries for the aids are free of charge.
I was quite surprised to find out that even the batteries would be free on the NHS. These hearing aids won’t cost me a penny, how amazing is that?
When I walked into the audiologist’s office, it became clear very quickly that I would be leaving the appointment with the hearing aids as I could see them laying on the table.
Before we went ahead with getting the hearing aids fitted, I asked her all the questions I had come up with over the past couple of months. I asked about the occlusion effect (which you may be familiar with if you wear earphones), and about open ear fitting, which sounded like the best solution for me based on what I had read. Luckily that was what she wanted to fit me with anyway, so I shouldn’t have to worry about the occlusion effect. I asked about using earphones/headphones and she suggested that I should simply wear normal ones and not wear the hearing aids in that situation. That was what I had been planning to do, but it is great that a professional would suggest the same. I will be able to use phones normally. I also asked about my prognosis, but the audiologist said that it is hard to say as it depends on the individual, but that she doesn’t think I will lose my hearing completely. I also got a print-out of my hearing test and asked her how my hearing loss is classified – I have a mild to moderate hearing loss (on low vs. high frequencies). After I asked all my questions, we got started with the hearing aids.
After checking my ears, the audiologist picked out tubing and a dome (the little black thing) of the right size and type for my ears and put them in my ears. She then switched them on and programmed them, which at first resulted in some pretty horrible feedback but that was quickly fixed.
She then tested them by walking around the room and asking me questions to see that I could understand her even though she was standing a further away and I couldn’t see her. Then she showed me how to replace the batteries, how to switch the hearing aids off (to conserve battery power when I’m not wearing them) and how to clean the tubing. She also told me how to tell apart the right and left hearing aid and how to put them in and remove them. Finally, I had to try putting them in and removing them myself. It was all pretty straight forward and they are very easy to use. She explained how the hearing aids worked and how I should start wearing them for only a couple of hours today and then a little longer each day. She also told me to always remove them before taking a shower, going swimming and going to bed. She gave me information on how to order new batteries when I need them and who to contact if I have problems with the hearing aids.
The audiologist told me not to wear the hearing aids on my way home but wear them for a couple of hours tonight to get used to them. When I got home, I showed N. the hearing aids as he was quite curious about them and then I started wearing them. I have been wearing them for roughly two hours now, and they definitely take some getting used to. There are so many sounds I didn’t hear before that I can hear now, and it is so … NOISY.
Plates clattering, cutlery scraping on plates, doors opening and closing, the TV, the clock on the wall (which I used to be able to hear when I bought it about three years ago but couldn’t hear anymore), the crunching sound of my biting into garlic bread, the washing machine especially in spinning cycle, my TYPING as I am writing this. Everything is amplified and after such a long time of living with hearing loss, it all seems rather loud. I can see why the audiologist suggested not wearing my hearing aids on my way home; the Edinburgh city centre is noisy as it is, I cannot imagine it with hearing aids, it would probably be a shock.
I was told it would take about 3-4 weeks for my brain to adjust to the hearing aids. My own voice sounds different to me now and according to N., I speak very quietly now, he has actually had to ask me to speak up. The thing is, to me, my voice sounds loud enough. So I reckon that will take some adjusting as well. The audiologist said that once I have adjusted to the hearing aids, they will start sounding normal to me. So I reckon I will have to be patient and try to wear the hearing aids as much as I can to get used to them.
I was given my hearing aids, the manual, some cleaning tools, a small pouch to keep them in and several sets of batteries which should last me 8 to 12 months. I will have to go back in for a review for some tests and adjustments at some point. Again, that’s me waiting for a letter in the mail.
So this is it. I wear hearing aids now. While everything does seem very loud compared to before, I have already noticed that there are a lot of things I can hear now that I didn’t before. I think it will make a big difference, and hopefully I will experience a big improvement especially in situations when I have problems understanding people, especially in social and work situations. Luckily, the aids I was given are quite small and can be hidden by my hair. Even when I wear my hair in a ponytail, they are really only obvious if you see my ears from the back.
I am not really sure how to approach telling people about my hearing aids yet. I think at work I won’t say anything explicitly. I reckon they will notice them sooner or later and if they want to have a conversation about them, then I’ll talk to them, but I don’t see myself walking in on Monday saying, “I wear hearing aids now, anyone want to ask any awkward questions?” In fact, I was very glad my appointment was on a Friday afternoon, because it gives me the whole weekend to get used to the hearing aids. With the bad experience I had at my last job, I am especially dreading the reactions of my coworkers.
I have told a couple of close friends that I would be getting hearing aids, but other than that I haven’t really told anyone, although I think my friends are the ones I least mind telling, as I know they are and will stay my friends. I don’t think the hearing aids would make much of a difference to them.
I haven’t even told my parents. We don’t talk that often, and it seems rather awkward to just randomly throw it into a conversation. At the same time, I cannot quite imagine that waiting until they come to visit in August would be any less awkward (imagine them finding out I’d been wearing them for three months already and I didn’t tell them), so I reckon I will tell them soon … ish. I just have to figure out how to best do it. To be perfectly honest, I am not 100% sure they are really aware that my hearing is bad enough to warrant hearing aids so I think they might be very surprised. What adds to the awkwardness is that my mum has problems with her hearing (and based on my experience with it, I think it is the same type of hearing loss I have), but she gets very defensive about it and I think she hasn’t really faced it like I have.
How would you handle telling others? Just wait until they notice the hearing aids? Tell people explicitly?